Home > Reviews > TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY – Alberto Iglesias


December 13, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A slow burning thriller based on the classic espionage novel by John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film about corruption at the highest level of the British spy game. Influenced in part by the real-life exploits of the British-Soviet double agent Kim Philby and set in Britain in the mid 1970s, the film stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, a taciturn, but brilliant secret agent who becomes embroiled in a labyrinthine plot of bluff and double-bluff when he discovers that there is a mole leaking classified information to the Soviets, and that the mole might well be one of the highest ranking agents in MI5, Britain’s elite intelligence agency. This is not the secret world of James Bond however: these spies are thinkers and manipulators rather than men of action, with a strategic mind more akin to chess than swordplay and gunfights, and much of the film develops via hushed conversations in darkened corridors and furtive rifling through filing cabinets. The film features an all star cast including Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Simon McBurney and Ciaran Hinds, and is directed by Swede Tomas Alfredsson, making his English-language debut following his spectacular success with the original Swedish version of Let The Right One In.

The music for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is by Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias, who is most famous for his Oscar-nominated scores for The Kite Runner and The Constant Gardener, as well as his regular collaborations with director Pedro Almodóvar. His work here, much like many of his other works, is soft and understated, textural and restrained, rarely calling attention to itself or making sweeping statements which telegraph the narrative. It is written mainly for a small string orchestra recorded in London, with highlighted solos for piano, cello, and all the members of the woodwind section.

In a score of few highlights, “George Smiley” is a soft, introverted jazz piece for a solo piano, solo trumpet, string wash, and brushed percussion, and there’s a hint of Alexandre Desplat in “Islay Hotel” in the way insistent, rhythmic clarinet notes combine with the piano and strings. Later, “Polyakov” builds in a more urgent viola ostinato beneath other shifting layers of strings to quite clever effect, “Alleline and Bland on the Roof” unexpectedly features a prominent harp glissando, and “Safe House” revisits the trumpet solo from the opening cue, underpinned by an increasingly shrill staccato piano-and-percussion pulse.

As the score progresses, ”Tarr and Irina” introduces a vaguely romantic vaguely Slavic-sounding piano motif to accompany the ill-advised and ill-fated relationship between the pair – he a MI5 assassin, she the wife of a Russian diplomat – while the relatively fast-paced “Esterhase” and the latter parts of “Control and Westerby” produce some of the score’s few action moments, which come by way of a more bold and urgent string ostinato underpinned by stark, shrill woodwind textures and piano chords. The score’s finale, comprising “One’s Gone” and the end credits piece, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, contains some of the score’s most interesting music, with the former interjecting an unexpectedly contemporary synth pulse into the familiar piano and string patterns, giving it a sense of forward motion and kinetic energy, and the latter recapitulation most of the score’s main thematic and instrumental elements in a comprehensive 6-minute suite.

Unfortunately, however, much of the rest of the score tends to pass by without raising its voice to much more than whisper. It creeps in and out of scenes and cues, occasionally presenting an interesting texture or a more stylized rhythm, but more often than not comprising little more than vaguely sinister chords and moody instrumental moments to offset the cerebral screenplay and the film’s languid pacing. The score works in context – as most scores do, unless they’re really badly written – but unless your taste in scores is firmly rooted in the realms of ‘unobtrusive and understated’, you’re unlikely to take much away from this work in terms of memorability or scope for repeat listenings.

I often feel like something of a philistine when I criticize Alberto Iglesias’s music, because there’s clearly a great deal of musicianship at work in his scores, and clearly others appreciate his work greatly, based on his critical success amongst his peers and from other film music reviewers. Personally, however, I have never been able to connect with his music on any deeper emotional level, and am usually left floundering on the surface of his scores, understanding their intent, but never really enjoying actually listening to them. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, for all its subtleties and intricacies, is unfortunately more of the same.

Rating: **½

Buy the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • George Smiley (5:19)
  • Treasure (1:47)
  • Witchcraft (1:28)
  • Islay Hotel (0:56)
  • Control (2:10)
  • Polyakov (1:50)
  • Alleline and Bland on the Roof (2:25)
  • Safe House (1:36)
  • Tarr and Irina (5:11)
  • Anything Else? (3:28)
  • Jim Prideaux (2:09)
  • Thursgood (2:45)
  • Karla (2:53)
  • Esterhase (4:57)
  • Guillam (1:26)
  • Control and Westerby (4:02)
  • Circus (5:26)
  • One’s Gone (3:36)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (5:57)

Running Time: 59 minutes 30 seconds

Silva Screen Records SILCD-1369 (2011)

Music composed and conducted by Alberto Iglesias. Recorded and mixed by Jose Lios Cresp. Album produced by Alberto Iglesias and Javier Casado.

  1. December 13, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Nice write up! Very well written! 🙂

  2. Craig Lysy
    December 13, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    “Personally, however, I have never been able to connect with his music on any deeper emotional level, and am usually left floundering on the surface of his scores, understanding their intent, but never really enjoying actually listening to them.”

    What is so amazing about this statement is that it is almost verbatim what I intended to write! That is the God honest truth.

    What is sad, is that I want desperately to connect. Well hope springs eternal.

  3. Joel G
    December 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    I actually really enjoy some of Iglesias’ other scores, especially his music for Almodovar films. I find them to have a real sense of class and beauty, even when they’re not as accessible as most Western scores.

    I saw this film a few days ago, and I agree it’s definitely a difficult score to get into (just like the film in many ways). In the context of the film it works rather well, creating a very chaotic and bizarre mix of music to match the sense of paranoia which guides the story. A strange mix of small orchestral passages, some modern touches, a few moody electric guitar bits. Certainly not a film you will walk out of humming the theme tune. I have yet to hear it on album, so I’m sure that will affect my overall likability of the score, but I think from a purely conceptual side, I thought it was an intriguing and intelligent score.

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